Walt Disney World Is Returning to Normal. What Does That Mean?
You may have heard that Walt Disney World reached Park Pass capacity several times recently.
This behavior reflects more than Spring Break in the United States. It also reflects that the tide has turned in our battle against COVID-19.
We could feasibly achieve herd immunity among adults by the end of June. However, an argument exists that it’s not possible until kids take the vaccine.
Still, we’re trending hard the right way, and Disney must adapt quickly.
Walt Disney World will return to normal soon. What does that mean?
Disney has run at half-mast since its July reopening. The company laid off 32,000 workers during the pandemic, at least 18,000 of them in Orlando.
Since then, only a portion of the staff has returned. Disney had no need to bring back everyone since the parks ran at roughly one-third capacity.
However, the situation has changed quickly. In truth, it’s happened so fast that many businesses have struggled to get their heads around it.
On January 25th, the United States had distributed only 41.4 million doses. Now, we’re averaging 2.5 million daily doses and have crossed 130 million.
At roughly that pace, 150 million adult Americans will complete their vaccinations by Memorial Day.
You can imagine what they will mean to holiday crowds at Walt Disney World. And that’s actually a problem for Disney.
The company doesn’t want to run at a lower capacity. It, you know, likes making money and pleasing customers.
So, Disney must prepare for a full-blown park experience in a matter of months.
You’ve seen with Disneyland that the company cannot open a theme park overnight. It requires preparation, staffing, and re-training.
The same is true at Walt Disney World. Even though the place is open, it’s nowhere near ready for regular crowds yet.
Park officials must start planning for that soon. The first step will involve recalling thousands of cast members. Alas, they cannot exactly keep it quiet.
Soon afterward, the parks will increase capacity, but that will require more caution. It’s one thing to bring back staff.
When Disney announces capacity is increasing significantly, it’ll signal that the pandemic is ending.
Think of that moment as the final hurdle…and one the company won’t take lightly. We’re not there yet, but Disney must start preparing for it.
There’s more to Disney than just what you notice. For example, Disney qualifies as possessing one of the largest supply chains in the south.
For this reason, the company relies on other businesses more than you realize.
To wit, many Disney restaurants have reduced their menus during the pandemic. Why did this happen? It wasn’t Disney’s choice.
When COVID-19 hit, many vendors faced financial shortfalls that required layoffs.
The thing about the supply chain is that you produce fewer products when you staff a smaller number of workers.
The shortcomings come from those companies that Disney relies on for its goods.
Now, Disney must plan for at least double the attendance…and possibly much more.
Internal park surveys suggest that fans are chomping at the bit to return to the parks. You’re probably one of them and fully understand the sentiment.
Well, Disney must start prepping its supply line now in anticipation of those new crowds. And this part isn’t entirely up to them.
Not everyone is Disney. Some companies lack the cash reserves to operate until they have steady revenue.
In other words, part of this is beyond Disney’s control. But that’s an opportunity for new suppliers to make forward-thinking deals with Disney.
These logistics issues tie together. Disney hasn’t reopened some restaurants due to the lack of demand.
Why would anyone operate 100 percent of businesses with only one-third of the customers? It doesn’t make any financial sense.
However, the tide has turned, and the parks could return to regular capacity within a few months.
When that happens, the parks will need all their restaurants in business to serve the additional customers.
Alas, Disney must rely on two additional factors here before proceeding. It must bring back and train/re-train staff for these jobs.
Many cast members couldn’t wait for their jobs and moved on from Disney. Others received new assignments elsewhere in the parks.
So, this task isn’t as simple as people returning to their old jobs.
Then, there’s the supply chain again. Restaurants must confirm that they can restock with the agreements they need to serve customers.
Again, this part isn’t up to Disney. I expect it to become less of an issue toward the end of the year when the rest of society returns to normal.
Since the parks have been ahead of most other companies’ pace, they’ll face it sooner.
Walt Disney World is a de facto city that operates under its own laws. Still, it relies on other manufacturers for many goods.
Those businesses must come through for Walt Disney World to operate fully.
The next thing Disney must decide involves FastPasses and other digital line queues.
The company has indicated that FastPasses won’t return. You shouldn’t read too much into that blanket statement, though.
Disney has hinted at other digital queuing options akin to Disneyland’s MaxPass or Boarding Groups for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
You may have heard that wait-times have increased in recent days, and that’s partially accurate.
Realistically, due to a max capacity of 35 percent, there’s a theoretical limit that the parks have reached on several occasions.
So, the current status isn’t any different than what we witnessed at Christmas Week or the like.
However, Disney does need to do something fast. When capacity increases, the lack of FastPasses will cause ripple effects.
The main two are long lines and disgruntled customers, with the second concern more significant.
How many guests will feel comfortable in long lines after spending a year inside their homes? It could trigger some folks.
Disney must decide how it will handle digital queues before the parks increase capacity. Otherwise, people could get stressed.
Going hand-in-hand with this issue is transportation. If you’ve read some Disney posts on social media in March, you’ve heard about the buses.
Mears Transportation Group laid off more than 80 percent of its staff, which has caused a rift with Disney. Ergo, Magical Express will get discontinued.
As for park buses, some park guests have indicated they’re in short supply and require extended waits.
That hasn’t been my experience, and I’ve visited on some near-capacity days. I’ll cede to the passionate on this point, though.
If Disney has problems with bus supply right now, it will only grow worse in two or three months.
Yes, increasing staff will solve some of the problems, but Disney must commit to bringing mass transit in, well, mass.
Also, the EPCOT monorail line remains offline. When capacity increases, it MUST return.
These issues embody how different Disney could look by the summer.
Minor inconveniences right now would become major if the company’s not proactive.
Bringing Back Shows, Parades, and Fireworks
Oddly, this part represents one of the most manageable parts of the process.
Disney has performed testing on Magic Kingdom fireworks on multiple occasions. The company did this to verify everything still works.
As long as nothing malfunctions now, that show could return whenever Disney wants.
Fantasmic! may take a bit longer, and I’m dubious that cast members are ready to ride the same boat with that many passengers now.
Still, we’re talking about fractional adjustments for the most part. The only delay would involve Harmonious at EPCOT, which isn’t quite ready yet.
Similarly, Disney has field-tested parades repeatedly during the pandemic.
After all, many Cavalcades are nothing more than small, unannounced parades. And the same thought process applies to character greetings.
The parks host these frequently right now. The only difference is that you can’t walk up to the character.
Instead, you socially distance from one another. With one change in policy, those are ready.
So, the stuff that you desire the most seems like the easiest to bring back. It’s the supply chain and staffing matters that concern me the most.
Also, Disney must do something about digital line queues SOON. If the next thing isn’t ready, they may need to return to FastPasses for the time being.
Whatever the company decides, the prevalence of vaccination doses means that we’re suddenly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this apocalypse.
Feature Image Rights: Matt Stroshane